SUPREME COURT Manila THIRD DIVISION G.R. No. 111709 August 30, 2001
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. ROGER P. TULIN, VIRGILIO I. LOYOLA, CECILIO O. CHANGCO, ANDRES C. INFANTE, CHEONG SAN HIONG, and JOHN DOES, accused-appellants. MELO, J.: This is one of the older cases which unfortunately has remained in docket of the Court for sometime. It was reassigned, together with other similar cases, to undersigned ponente in pursuance of A.M. No. 00-9-03-SC dated February 27, 2001. In the evening of March 2, 1991, "M/T Tabangao," a cargo vessel owned by the PNOC Shipping and Transport Corporation, loaded with 2,000 barrels of kerosene, 2,600 barrels of regular gasoline, and 40,000 barrels of diesel oil, with a total value of P40,426,793,87, was sailing off the coast of Mindoro near Silonay Island. The vessel, manned by 21 crew members, including Captain Edilberto Libo-on, Second Mate Christian Torralba, and Operator Isaias Ervas, was suddenly boarded, with the use of an aluminum ladder, by seven fully armed pirates led by Emilio Changco, older brother of accusedappellant Cecilio Changco. The pirates, including accused-appellants Tulin, Loyola, and Infante, Jr. were armed with M-16 rifles, .45 and .38 caliber handguns, and bolos. They detained the crew and took complete control of the vessel. Thereafter, accused-appellant Loyola ordered three crew members to paint over, using black paint, the name "M/T Tabangao" on the front and rear portions of the vessel, as well as the PNOC logo on the chimney of the vessel. The vessel was then painted with the name "Galilee," with registry at San Lorenzo, Honduras. The crew was forced to sail to Singapore, all the while sending misleading radio messages to PNOC that the ship was undergoing repairs. PNOC, after losing radio contact with the vessel, reported the disappearance of the vessel to the Philippine Coast Guard and secured the assistance of the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Navy. However, search and rescue operations yielded negative results. On March 9, 1991, the ship arrived in the vicinity of Singapore and cruised around the area presumably to await another vessel which, however, failed to arrive. The pirates were thus forced to return to the Philippines on March 14, 1991, arriving at Calatagan, Batangas on March 20, 1991 where it remained at sea. On March 28, 1991, the "M/T Tabangao" again sailed to and anchored about 10 to 18 nautical miles from Singapore's shoreline where another vessel called "Navi Pride" anchored beside it. Emilio Changco ordered the crew of "M/T Tabangao" to transfer the vessel's cargo to the hold of "Navi Pride". Accused-appellant Cheong San Hiong supervised the crew of "Navi Pride" in
receiving the cargo. The transfer, after an interruption, with both vessels leaving the area, was completed on March 30, 1991. On March 30, 1991, "M/T Tabangao" returned to the same area and completed the transfer of cargo to "Navi Pride." On April 8, 1991, "M/T Tabangao" arrived at Calatagan, Batangas, but the vessel remained at sea. On April 10, 1991, the members of the crew were released in three batches with the stern warning not to report the incident to government authorities for a period of two days or until April 12, 1991, otherwise they would be killed. The first batch was fetched from the shoreline by a newly painted passenger jeep driven by accused-appellant Cecilio Changco, brother of Emilio Changco, who brought them to Imus, Cavite and gave P20,000.00 to Captain Libo-on for fare of the crew in proceeding to their respective homes. The second batch was fetched by accusedappellant Changco at midnight of April 10, 1991 and were brought to different places in Metro Manila. On April 12, 1991, the Chief Engineer, accompanied by the members of the crew, called the PNOC Shipping and Transport Corporation office to report the incident. The crew members were brought to the Coast Guard Office for investigation. The incident was also reported to the National Bureau of Investigation where the officers and members of the crew executed sworn statements regarding the incident. A series of arrests was thereafter effected as follows: a. On May 19, 1991, the NBI received verified information that the pirates were present at U.K. Beach, Balibago, Calatagan, Batangas. After three days of surveillance, accused-appellant Tulin was arrested and brought to the NBI headquarters in Manila. b. Accused-appellants Infante, Jr. and Loyola were arrested by chance at Aguinaldo Hi-way by NBI agents as the latter were pursuing the mastermind, who managed to evade arrest. c. On May 20, 1991, accused-appellants Hiong and Changco were arrested at the lobby of Alpha Hotel in Batangas City. On October 24, 1991, an Information charging qualified piracy or violation of Presidential Decree No. 532 (Piracy in Philippine Waters) was filed against accused-appellants, as follows: The undersigned State Prosecutor accuses ROGER P. TULIN, VIRGILIO I. LOYOLA, CECILIO O. CHANGCO, ANDRES C. INFANTE, and CHEONG SAN HIONG, and nine (9) other JOHN DOES of qualified piracy (Violation of P.D. No. 532), committed as follows: That on or about and during the period from March 2 to April 10, 1991, both dates inclusive, and for sometime prior and subsequent thereto, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, then manning a motor launch and armed with high powered guns, conspiring and confederating together
and mutually helping one another, did then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously fire upon, board and seize while in the Philippine waters M/T PNOC TABANGCO loaded with petroleum products, together with the complement and crew members, employing violence against or intimidation of persons or force upon things, then direct the vessel to proceed to Singapore where the cargoes were unloaded and thereafter returned to the Philippines on April 10, 1991, in violation of the aforesaid law. CONTRARY TO LAW. (pp. 119-20, Rollo.) This was docketed as Criminal Case No. 91-94896 before Branch 49 of the Regional Trial Court of the National Capital Judicial Region stationed in Manila. Upon arraignment, accusedappellants pleaded not guilty to the charge. Trial thereupon ensued. Accused-appellants Tulin, Infante, Jr., and Loyola, notwithstanding some inconsistencies in their testimony as to where they were on March 1, 1991, maintained the defense of denial, and disputed the charge, as well as the transfer of any cargo from "M/T Tabangao" to the "Navi Pride." All of them claimed having their own respective sources of livelihood. Their story is to the effect that on March 2, 1991, while they were conversing by the beach, a red speedboat with Captain Edilberto Liboon and Second Mate Christian Torralba on board, approached the seashore. Captain Liboon inquired from the three if they wanted to work in a vessel. They were told that the work was light and that each worker was to be paid P3,000.00 a month with additional compensation if they worked beyond that period. They agreed even though they had no sea-going experience. On board, they cooked, cleaned the vessel, prepared coffee, and ran errands for the officers. They denied having gone to Singapore, claiming that the vessel only went to Batangas. Upon arrival thereat in the morning of March 21, 1991, they were paid P1,000.00 each as salary for nineteen days of work, and were told that the balance would be remitted to their addresses. There was neither receipt nor contracts of employment signed by the parties. Accused-appellant Changco categorically denied the charge, averring that he was at home sleeping on April 10, 1991. He testified that he is the younger brother of Emilio Changco, Jr. Accused-appellant Cheong San Hiong, also known as Ramzan Ali, adduced evidence that he studied in Sydney, Australia, obtaining the "Certificate" as Chief Officer, and later completed the course as a "Master" of a vessel, working as such for two years on board a vessel. He was employed at Navi Marine Services, Pte., Ltd. as Port Captain. The company was engaged in the business of trading petroleum, including shipoil, bunker lube oil, and petroleum to domestic and international markets. It owned four vessels, one of which was "Navi Pride." On March 2, 1991, the day before "M/T Tabangao" was seized by Emilio Changco and his cohorts, Hiong's name was listed in the company's letter to the Mercantile Section of the Maritime Department of the Singapore government as the radio telephone operator on board the vessel "Ching Ma."
The company was then dealing for the first time with Paul Gan, a Singaporean broker, who offered to sell to the former bunker oil for the amount of 300,000.00 Singapore dollars. After the company paid over one-half of the aforesaid amount to Paul Gan, the latter, together with Joseph Ng, Operations Superintendent of the firm, proceeded to the high seas on board "Navi Pride" but failed to locate the contact vessel. The transaction with Paul Gan finally pushed through on March 27, 1991. Hiong, upon his return on board the vessel "Ching Ma," was assigned to supervise a ship-to-ship transfer of diesel oil off the port of Singapore, the contact vessel to be designated by Paul Gan. Hiong was ordered to ascertain the quantity and quality of the oil and was given the amount of 300,000.00 Singapore Dollars for the purchase. Hiong, together with Paul Gan, and the surveyor William Yao, on board "Navi Pride" sailed toward a vessel called "M/T Galilee". Hiong was told that "M/T Galilee" would be making the transfer. Although no inspection of "Navi Pride" was made by the port authorities before departure, Navi Marine Services, Pte., Ltd. was able to procure a port clearance upon submission of General Declaration and crew list. Hiong, Paul Gan, and the brokers were not in the crew list submitted and did not pass through the immigration. The General Declaration falsely reflected that the vessel carrie